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The National Watermelon Association will "kick off" the domestic watermelon season when its 96th annual convention returns to the state of Texas for the first time in 17 years.

The convention, which will have a National Football League theme, will take place Feb. 17-21 at The Fairmont Dallas and will offer several unusual and even once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for football fans, Bob Morrissey, executive director of the association, told The Produce News.

"It's been far too long that we have been in Texas," Mr. Morrissey said. "With Dallas being such a big NFL city, and the home of 'America's team,' we wanted to do it right, and we selected a football theme to kick off the domestic season."

The event will start Wednesday, Feb. 17, with three activities. During the day, a golf tournament will take place at Cowboy's Golf Club, the only NFL- themed golf course in the world. For those who do not play golf, there will be a luncheon and bus tour to the "Southfork Ranch," which was used during the filming of the television series Dallas. That evening, the final tour will take attendees to the nearby suburb of Arlington, home of the new, $1.1 billion Cowboys Stadium, the largest NFL venue ever built.

Attendees will head to the Miller Lite Field Club, which is located on the stadium's 50-yard line and by the entrance used by the team to access the field.

Mr. Morrissey said that tours of the stadium, including the Cowboys' locker room, will be given, and while attendees will not be allowed onto the field, the club's sliding glass windows that look out onto the field will be opened, allowing people to still view the interior of the stadium and its numerous bells and whistles, including a $40 million, four-sided, high-definition video board that hangs 90 feet above midfield and stretches between the 20-yard lines. Two Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders will also be on hand to sign autographs and take photos.

On Thursday, Feb. 18, the association's nine committees will meet in the morning, and that afternoon, the "50-Yard Line" business center will open for a mini trade show with 30 exhibitors, which Mr. Morrissey said "sold out far ahead of any other previous conventions."

That evening, there will be a "Locker Room" cocktail reception in the business center with some football-related surprises, followed by the "Football Tailgate Party" kickoff reception, headlined by the band Maiden Texas. The event will have the largest dance floor of any prior convention, and on the outskirts of the ballroom will be numerous football-themed activities, including a 40-yard bungee run, in an effort to duplicate the "NFL Experience" in which people can take part before the Super Bowl, Mr. Morrissey said.

"It's going to be a blast, an absolute great deal of fun," he said of the reception.

On the morning of Friday, Feb. 19, Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples will be the keynote speaker at the First Quarter Breakfast. The event will also mark the start of competition for the eight contestants vying to be the 2010 National Watermelon Queen.

The event's popular seed-spitting contest will take place during the Time Out after the breakfast, and attendees can then look forward to the Second Quarter Auction, the industry's annual auction of all things watermelon, which will take place that afternoon.

On the morning of Saturday, Feb. 20, Mr. Morrissey will give his annual State of the NWA Address at the convention's "Third Quarter Breakfast," and a new National Watermelon Queen will be crowned at the Fourth Quarter Banquet and annual awards reception that night.

At Sunday morning's closing breakfast, the association will welcome its new president, Brent Harrison, who is president of Nogales, AZ-based Al Harrison Distributors Co., and its new first vice president, Jim Schmidt of La Quinta, CA-based Sunterra West LLC. Its new second vice president will be nominated and voted in at the awards banquet Saturday night.

John Lapide, secretary-treasurer of Brooklyn, NY's Melon One and the association's outgoing president, will become the new NWA chairman, replacing Nowell Borders, president of Hargill, TX-based Borders Melon Co. Inc.

"I've always been convinced that if you come to the National Watermelon Association convention one time, you'll want to continue to come back year after year after year," Mr. Morrissey said proudly. "We provide not only education and entertainment, but fellowship. For four or five days, we turn competitors into a family."